September 30, 2013 9:33:09 AM
KAFER ROUMA, Syria -- Looking weary and malnourished, the baby girl could hardly open her eyes.
Fatima was born just a month ago amid the ancient ruins outside Kafer Rouma, a village in northern Syria that has come under shelling by President Bashar Assad's forces during the country's civil war. Her family fled their home in the village to the giant stone blocks and centuries-old walls so that Fatima's mother could give birth in relative safety.
"We left because of the planes dropping TNT barrels and because of the shelling," said Fatima's father, who agreed to give only his nickname of Abu Ahmad for fear of reprisals.
Some 2 million people have fled Syria since the country's uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011, according to the United Nations. Over that time, more than 4 million Syrians also have been internally displaced within the country, including Abu Ahmad, his wife and six children.
Abu Ahmad's family is among dozens of people who have found shelter amid a cluster of lichen-covered ruins outside of Kafer Rouma, in one of several dozen ancient settlements that dot northwest Syria. The ancient buildings -- usually houses, churches and baths -- date from the 1st to the 7th century AD and were abandoned afterward as trade routes changed.
On a recent day, Abu Ahmed held a bottle filled with a greenish liquid to feed his baby daughter. It is water mixed with herbs because there is no milk, he said. There is also no running water and no electricity. Basic food and medicine are lacking.
"I pray to God to curse this pig (Assad) for making us live in caves like in the ancient times," said one woman named Fatima, who said she fled to the ruins with her seven children. "Look at us," she said, giving only her first name for fear of her safety.
The villagers moved their property from their old houses to the new ones. They brought with them what they could carry -- pots and pans, stoves, torches, plastic tarps. Children scamper among the household goods and ancient stones.
The Syrian army has shelled the ruins from time to time, although no one was killed in the bombardment.
"We never thought we'd have to live with our families in old ruins and caves just to be safe," said one villager, Youssef Ismail.